By Andrew Hawk
My school’s year started like many others—with a lot of protective measures in place. Students have spent the majority of their days in their classrooms. Everyone has been wearing a mask in the hallways. The staff lounge has been set up for social distancing, and alternative places for staff members to eat have been identified. As we entered the month of October, there had been almost no issues related to COVID-19 at my school.
In retrospect, the things that happened next were completely predictable. I let my guard down, and we ended up with a positive case. My instructional coach held our regular monthly data meetings. I attended one of these grade-level meetings, and it did not occur to me that we were not socially distanced. Was this the first time? No. When I reflect on our meetings up to this point, I see that I had not adequately required my staff members to stay socially distanced during meetings. The result was that when contact tracing was completed, five staff members ended up being put on quarantine instead of just one. I hope all of you are able to learn from my mistake and stay vigilant during this time. Here are some things I learned while I was quarantined for exposure to COVID-19.
It Did Not Feel Like a Vacation
I have always enjoyed working and being productive. This year marks 25 years that I have held a full-time job. During those years, I only missed work for two weeks or more directly after the births of my two children. My 14-day quarantine did not feel like summer or winter break. First of all, if you abide by your quarantine, you are not allowed to go anywhere. Second, for me, it was hard to let go of all the things that I was supposed to be doing.
The Test Was Not as Bad as I Expected
I had heard a lot about the COVID-19 test that is administered by inserting a cotton swab into a person’s nostrils. Everyone’s experience will be different, of course, but most of the feedback I was hearing was negative. People said it was very uncomfortable. My test was self-administered in the drive-through of a local pharmacy under the supervision of a nurse who remained behind the drive-through window. It was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. I have had the influenza swab test twice, and this test was not nearly as uncomfortable as that. My test results came back negative in three days.
It Helped to Find Ways to Be Productive
Do I have it? Did I infect my family? Did I hasten the spread of COVID-19? It was hard not to dwell on possible negative scenarios. What helped me was to focus on the information I had at any given time. Do I have any symptoms at this moment? Do I have any reason to think I have spread this to someone else? Do I have a plan in place if I become sick? It’s easy to get carried away with hypotheticals, so try to focus on what you know.
I Learned More About eLearning
Throughout this school year, I have monitored every grade level’s performance for students who chose a virtual (at-home) learning option. For the two weeks I was at home, I helped my kindergartener (who also stayed home) with her eLearning work. This gave me a new perspective. Looking at a student’s lesson activities from a principal’s point of view is very different from assisting a child while she completes the activities at home. I was pleased to find that the activities my teachers were providing felt meaningful and nothing like busywork.
Hard Decisions Were Harder from a Distance
I am the only administrator in my building. The instructional coach from our district’s high school was the acting principal while I was away. We had two separate instances where students ended up being suspended. The instructional coach consulted with me during both instances. I do not take suspending a student lightly when I am at school, and it is even harder over the phone.
A Lot Can Be Accomplished Virtually
I learned during the shutdown last spring that a lot can be accomplished virtually. This is also true during a quarantine. I was able to take part in case conferences, administrative meetings, and even a schoolwide professional development workshop using my laptop. Working as a virtual guest is not quite the same as being somewhere in person, but it was nice to be able to continue to participate.
You Have to Let Go of Guilt
This is a stressful time worldwide. While all of us have a responsibility to do what we can to limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also have to leave room for being human. “You did not create COVID-19.” This was my boss’s sentiment for me when I was expressing my contrition about the situation. The next day, I found myself telling my infected staff member that “It could happen to any of us.” Do your best to keep those around you safe, but also remember that we all make mistakes sometimes.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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